Historical Significance or Value
The expansion of the tram system in the early 1900s played a pivotal role in Wellington’s suburban development. Trams were the main form of public transport in Wellington for 86 years, between 1878 and 1964, although buses had begun to replace them in the 1950s. The shelter, built originally as a tram shelter and later used as a bus shelter, is one of the few surviving shelters in Wellington from the early 1900s. Bus Tunnel, Pirie Street (Register no. 3649), is another legacy of the tramway system in Wellington, now used for buses. They are reminders of the importance of trams and the public transport network to the expansion of Wellington and development of its suburbs.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
Tram Shelter (Former) is located towards the north east end of Oriental Bay, facing the sea and with mature trees behind it. The tall apartment block nearby, with a lawn in front, is set far enough back from the road that it does not dominate the shelter. The shelter’s wooden construction and decorative turned posts with the current cream and green colour scheme, provides a visually pleasing point of interest as well as a sheltered rest towards the end of Oriental Bay. A spectacular view of Wellington harbour can be enjoyed from the shelter.
Tram Shelter (Former) was built to a standard design by the Wellington City Engineer, William Morton. It was built in 1904 by William McColl who also built a number of other shelters at the same time. Tram Shelter (Former) appears to be the only surviving one left of this particular design, although it is now plainer than when originally built. Its architectural significance is as a representative example of a once common structure.
Social Significance or Value
Tram Shelter (Former) was used first as a tram shelter from 1904 to 1950 and then as a bus shelter. In Wellington as a whole, millions of passenger tram rides were made each year. Many local residents would have used the shelter daily and excursionists to the seaside at Oriental Bay, particularly in the years when the Oriental Bay Kiosk had a tea room behind the shelter, would also have been users of the shelter. Crowds saw and rode on the last tram to Oriental Bay in May 1950, and it was reported that a Mr William Burgess of Majoribanks Street was present on both the inaugural and final ride on the Oriental Bay line.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
Tram Shelter (Former) is a reminder of how trams once dominated the roads in our major cities. In Wellington, the electrification and expansion of the tramway system in the early 1900s was pivotal in Wellington’s suburban development. The shelter was designed by the Wellington City Engineer of the time, William Hobbard Morton, who designed a standard plan that was used for a number of shelters in 1904; however this is probably the only remaining original one left in Wellington of that particular design.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
Wellington City Council installed an interpretation panel beside the shelter in 2012 that gives information about the history of trams in Wellington, the design of the shelter and the last tram ride to Oriental Bay in 1950. It is also reproduces four historic photographs showing the shelter in front of the Oriental Bay Kiosk and the last tram ride. Therefore, although Tram Shelter (Former) has been modified and made plainer since its original construction, it has good potential for educating the public about this important aspect of Wellington’s transport history.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
While bus shelters per se are not rare, this one dating from 1904 is a rare survivor from the early days of tram transport – many tram shelters have been replaced over the years. Tram Shelter (Former) is probably the only original one of this particular design surviving in Wellington (a modern replica in Glenmore Street, which replaced a damaged shelter built in 1907, is also in this style). It is a representative example and important reminder of the tramway system that was such an important factor in enabling the expansion of Wellington to the suburbs in the early 1900s.
Before the arrival of Maori from Taranaki in the 1820s, the Wellington area was populated primarily by people of Kurahaupo waka descent, including Ngai Tara, Rangitane, Muaupoko, Ngati Apa and Ngati Ira. The Waitangi Tribunal referred to these as ‘Whatonga-descent peoples’ since all claimed descent from Whatonga, an early Maori explorer, who named the harbour, Te Whanganui a Tara, for his son Tara. The people from the Taranaki region were often given the common name of ‘Ngati Awa’ (and later Te Atiawa) by outsiders, but they comprised a number of tribes. These ‘incoming tribes’ included Ngati Toa (also known as Ngati Toa Rangatira), Ngati Rangatahi, Te Atiawa, Ngati Tama, Ngati Mutunga, Taranaki, and Ngati Ruanui.
By the 1820s, Europeans were arriving at Port Nicholson (as it came to be known, after John Nicholson, the Sydney harbourmaster). In May 1839 the New Zealand Company advertised in London 990 lots of Port Nicholson land for sale. The first immigrants began arriving in January 1840. In 1865 when Wellington became the capital city, the population was just 4,900. But Wellington’s economic base was significantly improved by the relocation of the capital and by 1881 the resident population had reached 20,000. A building boom accompanied the population increase, with the total number of dwellings in the city doubling in the last 20 years of the nineteenth century. More than 70 per cent of this growth took place in central Wellington, leaving some areas overcrowded.
Trams in Wellington
Prior to the introduction of trams, residents were limited in the distance they could live from their place of work – there were horse-drawn cabs and buses but these were too expensive for most people. Steam trams began operating in 1878, causing the horse-drawn bus and cab owners to lower their fares. However, the steam trams frightened horses and people, frequently breached their operating regulations, and with economic depression in the 1880s they were replaced by horse-drawn trams in 1882.
At this time, the tram lines were extended to Courtenay Place, a move directly responsible for making it a transport hub for the city. There was a strong feeling that providing accessible transport to outlying areas would alleviate the overcrowding in the central city. In 1900 the tramways system was taken over by the Wellington City Council at a cost of nearly £20,000. Work began in late 1902 on converting the system to run electric trams and in 1904 they began running. By 1911 there were an estimated 22 million passenger rides a year, producing weekly revenues of £3,000 (more than $400,000 in today’s terms).
Tram Shelter, Oriental Bay
Tram Shelter (Former) was built at the terminus of the Oriental Bay tram line, which ran along Oriental Bay from Courtenay Place. A storm in August 1904 caused part of Oriental Bay road to collapse, which delayed the opening of the tram service until 22 September 1904.
The shelter was designed by the Wellington City Engineer of the time, William Hobbard Morton, and was built by William McColl in 1904. Morton designed a standard plan that was used for a number of shelters in 1904. The plan notes that McColl was to build four shelters (although one has been crossed out): Aro Street Quarry, Oriental Bay Quarry, and Botanical Gardens. Another notation says that similar sheds were erected at Mansfield Street, Courtenay Place, Davis Street and Thorndon Quay. After Morton’s death in 1923, the Evening Post reported: ‘the tramway service, a vast amount of roading over hills whose difficult contours have been conquered so as to permit transport over easy grades… are all to Mr Morton’s credit’.
The Oriental Bay tram shelter was located in front of a former quarry that had provided fill for harbour reclamation. The tram route provided a popular excursion to the seaside for Wellingtonians, as well as transporting residents living in Oriental Bay and Roseneath. The Oriental Bay Kiosk (tea rooms and hall), opened in 1913 behind the shelter, and provided refreshments for some years as well as a place for meetings and dances. This was built on the former quarry site, about which the newspaper noted: ‘residents can well remember the unsightly blot it was in a locality which is certainly destined to be one of the most beautiful quarters of the city’. The kiosk was known as the Oriental Bay Private Hotel and Tea Kiosk between 1917 and 1920, when it became the Oriental Private Hotel (1921–1944/5), YWCA Hostel 1944/5–1957 and in 1959 was the Labour Department Hostel. It was demolished about 1981.
The shelter was built with a dormer in the roof, which formerly housed a clock. The front of the shelter originally had four sets of paired turned posts forming three openings. Between the two openings on either side of the central opening were semi-circular arches with trellis above a solid panel. This style can still be seen in a replica bus shelter in Glenmore Street. The trellis and solid panel has gone and there is now one turned post in place of the original double set, making the shelter more open. It already had one post and no trellis in 1976 when drawn by Grant Tilly for the ‘cityscapes’ newspaper series. There were two carved finials at each end of the roof ridge, with open timber work between them on a hipped roof. The Australasian Automatic Weighing Machine Company installed a weighing machine in front of the shelter in 1906, which was transferred to Willis St in 1924.
The Oriental Bay tram line had a few tragedies. In September 1913 a tram conductor died while on the Oriental Bay line (apparently falling from the tram). In May 1926 two trams collided head-on on the Oriental Bay route around Clyde Quay; the trams were extensively damaged but no one was seriously injured.
In 1925 when Oriental Parade was to be bitumened, consideration was given to replacing the trams with a bus service, and therefore not needing to re-lay the tram tracks. ‘Confounded’ wrote a letter to the editor of the Evening Post saying ‘Is it not a fact that in all leading cities of the world the motor bus is gaining a greater hold? …Is there one resident in Oriental Bay who wants the noisy trams continued, and to be saddled with the rates on the new track…’ Nevertheless, the Council adopted the Tramways Manager’s report, committing itself to re-laying the tracks at an estimated cost of £11,500.
Three tram sheds were built in Wellington for storing and servicing the trams – at Newtown, Thorndon and Kilbirnie. By March 1930 the number of passengers carried annually had reached 46,581,456 – about 150,000 journeys every day. Numbers declined to 34.8 million in 1933–4 due to the economic depression, but climbed again in 1939–40, reaching 48.2 million with the boost provided by the Centennial Exhibition. The Second World War provided another boost to 62.8 million in 1943–44. However, during the war it was difficult to maintain the tram system and after the war the city council decided to trial trolley buses.
Tram services to Wadestown and Tinakori Road ceased in 1949 and the Oriental Bay line was the next to go, with the last tram running in May 1950. Photos show the crowds on the last Oriental Bay ride and also the tram tracks being removed from Oriental Parade. The Evening Post reported:
‘Scheduled to leave the terminus at 10:24pm, the tram was kept for 20 minutes or more while the crowd enthusiastically cheered… An hilarious crowd packed the tram and hung on at all points…and two dogs who managed to get on board added their barking to the din.’
The Dominion added that ‘one of the happiest persons on the tram’ was Mr William Burgess of Majoribanks Street, who was present at the inaugural trip when the tram service to Oriental Bay first began in 1904. The last tram in Wellington (and in New Zealand) ran in 1964, travelling from Thorndon to Wellington Zoo in Newtown.
The service was replaced first by a trolley bus service and in 1987 by diesel buses. The Oriental Parade shelter is no longer used as a bus stop – a more modern one is now located about 50 metres away to the west. In 2010, the Wellington City Council commissioned a Conservation Plan from Ian Bowman, and in 2012 installed an interpretation panel beside Tram Shelter (Former) and an ‘Oriental Bay’ sign on the front.
Tram Shelter (Former) is located towards the east end of Oriental Bay, near the intersection with Carlton Gore Road, which leads up Mt Victoria to the suburb of Roseneath. Trees and a hill form a backdrop behind the shelter, with a large block of apartments behind to the north-east side. The shelter is set at the back of the footpath on land owned by the Wellington City Council. It provides a spectacular view across Oriental Parade to the sea wall and the sea beyond.
The shelter is a small timber-framed structure enclosed on three sides and open to the sea (north-west) side. It has a corrugated iron roof, rusticated weatherboards on three exterior walls, match lining on the interior walls and four turned timber posts to the opening facing the street. Under the soffit of the roof (eaves) are pairs of ornate brackets (modillions) above each of the posts and single brackets above the corner posts on the side walls. The interior has a timber seat along the back wall. A metal light fitting without a shade is fixed onto the ceiling in the centre. The building has a hipped roof.
The Conservation Plan notes that the use of decorative turned timber posts, finials, crestings and trellis is common on Queen Anne styled buildings and the same style was used by George Troup in railway buildings he designed around the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth centuries throughout New Zealand. A replica of a shelter originally built in 1907 can be seen in Glenmore Street, Wellington, which is of a similar design to Tram Shelter (Former) when it was first built.
Comparative and contextual analysis
Some of New Zealand’s twentieth century public transport-related heritage has been recorded and formally recognised, although the quantity of such places is not great, and the structures recognise different aspects of the greater story. By far the greatest proportion of recognised transport-related heritage relates to the railways network.
The only bus shelter currently on the NZHPT Register is a brick shelter and toilets constructed in 1910, in Symonds Street Auckland (Register no. 561, Category 2). Transformer House and Shelter, Havelock North (Register no. 4797, Category 2) also contains a bus shelter, although its main purpose was to house an electricity transformer; it was designed by Walter Chapman-Taylor and built in 1914–15.
In Wellington, the Heritage schedule of the Wellington City Council District Plan currently (2012) lists five historic bus shelters, including Tram Shelter (Former). The others are at Cambridge Terrace, Miramar Avenue, Oban St/corner Sefton St, and one in the centre of Oriental Parade. None of these shelters is of the same style as Tram Shelter (Former). Tram Shelter (Former) would appear to be the only surviving original one left of this particular design (apart from the replica on Glenmore Street, built to replace one destroyed by a vehicle accident), although it is now plainer than when originally built.
Similar to Tram Shelter (Former), the Eastbourne Borough Council Omnibus Service Garage (Register no. 7644, Category 2) and the Eastbourne Ferry Terminal Building (Register no. 7807, Category 2), also tell how the public transport network facilitated the development of suburban areas in Wellington, although utilising different modes of transport.
Tram-related heritage is even less well-recognised than that of other public transport modes. Like Tram Shelter, the Bus Tunnel on Pirie Street (Register no. 3649, Category 2, 1907) was also built for the Wellington tramway system and is now used for buses. Also associated with tramways is The Powerhouse (Register no. 7496, Category 2), which was built in 1911 as part of the Invercargill Electric Tramways Corporation complex.
Tram Shelter (Former) is therefore a relatively rare remaining structure related to the development of the public transport network of trams and buses in New Zealand.
Removal of dormer with clock; removal of trellis and paired posts reduced to singles
Timber, corrugated iron
8th October 2012
Report Written By
Humphris, A. and G. Mew, Ring Around the City: Wellington’s new suburbs, 1900-1930, Steele Roberts, Wellington, 2009
Stewart, Graham, From Rails to Rubber: The Downhill Ride of New Zealand Trams, Grantham House, Wellington, 2006
Stewart, Graham, The End of the Penny Section: When Trams Ruled the Streets of New Zealand, Grantham House, Wellington, 1993
McGavin, T A, Wellington Tramway Memories, NZ Railway and Locomotive Society Inc, Wellington, 3rd ed, 1978
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Central Region Office.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.